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Ruddock aims to ignite season with Aironi star turn

Ten months ago Rhys Ruddock was riding the crest of a wave, whisked from one continent to another to become a fully capped Irish international. Now he's fighting for his place at Leinster.

The blindside flanker went from U-20 captain to playing against the New Zealand Maori in a matter of days after flying from Argentina to Australasia. A week later he came off the bench against the Wallabies before heading home.

He must have been bewildered, but when he returned to pre-season training there was a level of expectation on his shoulders that few of his peers would have felt.

His name alone marks him out from the rest, as does the tug of love for his affections between Ireland -- where he was born and where his mother comes from -- and Wales, the home of his father Mike, who coached Wales to the Grand Slam.

Ruddock and his brother Ciaran opted for Ireland and Leinster and Rhys has been marked out for big things ever since.

By his own admission, the last few weeks have been frustrating, but at 20 he is by most people's standards doing well.

The player-welfare scheme meant he missed Leinster's opening matches, and when he made his first appearance of the season he was already playing catch-up after Dominic Ryan made a blistering start to impress new coach Joe Schmidt.

A head cold meant he wasn't even in the running ahead of the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Leicester and although he was involved in training during the Six Nations, his prospects as a World Cup bolter seem to be receding. This Saturday against Aironi marks a rare chance to impress as the season continues to hot up.

"Definitely the last few weeks have been frustrating," he said. "I even missed a week of training but more so just not being a part of it all, and the lads doing so well.

"I'm just itching to get back in with the squad and ultimately get back on the field. I'm absolutely hoping to get an opportunity to get on the boots and have a game this weekend. Hopefully I can meet the challenge and put myself in contention for the games later in the season."

Ruddock has played 15 times this season, captaining the province against this weekend's opponents, but with the return of Kevin McLaughlin he found himself watching on as his team-mates took to the big stage against Leicester.

A big display against former Munster No 8 Nick Williams this weekend could see him get back in favour for the final lap as Leinster continue their pursuit of a Heineken Cup and Magners League double.

"There's a lot of competition for places. Kevin's playing well, Dominic's playing well, so that has to spur to me on," he said.

"I've had plenty of opportunities and I need to take them and start playing well. I think I played better earlier in the season, so I need to get back to that form and try and get the jersey.

"I had a good run of games (early in season) and then with the internationals I had quite a few games but my form sort of dipped around that period. I've also been feeling sick for the last few weeks so now I'm better there's no excuses, I've got the opportunity and I have to take it."

Irish Independent